|A939 towards Tomintoul|
|A939 towards Tomintoul|
The date is getting close to the winter solstice, and we are a long way north here.
At 8.00am this morning, when I took Cupar out for his morning walk, it was just about light enough for me to be able to make out the trees, undergrowth and fences that line the local roads. By the time we returned, half an hour later, the grey morning light was just giving way and painting the landscape in dark greens and browns. By 9.00am, it had become as light as it is going to get today, as an area of high pressure is building, giving us low dense cloud cover and occasional light drizzle. The sun only makes rare appearances at this time of year. At least it is pleasantly mild!
In just six hours time, our winter daytime light will be fading again. Indoors, with deeply inset and rather small windows, we live in a permanent gloom, brightened only by electricity. How on earth did people manage when all their lighting was by oil lamp and candle?
I often wonder at how the wildlife copes with such a short daylight time to forage for food. Even if the garden birds rise at the first glimmer of grey, and hang on until the world returns to uniformly black, they will still have to face some sixteen hours of night before venturing abroad again. It is no surprise that virtually all plant life slumbers through the winter.
It's that time of year when it is good to browse back through the summer posts of sparkling sunshine on the sea and flourishing wild flowers...!
|Roskhill Barn garden, August 2018|
Regular readers of this blog may recall that we are in the process of building a new space in the garden at The Barn. A timber 'Garden Room' has been erected, and a lean-to greenhouse will be added onto it early in the New Year.
The purpose of all this is two-fold. One, to provide an environment for growing some of our own bedding plants and starting off veg for the allotment, and, Two, to create a craft workshop which will be equipped as a hobby pottery, giving me an extra occupation for when I retire again and we give up the the holiday cottage business. Sue and I both intend to squish a bit of clay from time to time.
Being dual purpose, but both purposes being pot-based, naming the building the Potting Shed seemed pretty appropriate. We shorten this to the PS.
At present, we await delivery of the greenhouse - now promised for mid-January; and also of the pottery kiln, frustratingly delayed due to difficulty in obtaining some essential internal parts. But in the meantime, I have been busy fitting-out the interior of the PS. I bought some of the cheapest range of kitchen base units sold by DIY giant, B&Q, and have to say, I am most impressed by the quality. I have also been keen to use as many as possible of the 'off-cuts' of the timber from the build of the PS, and am delighted to now have a larch floorboard floor, made entirely from off-cuts from the external cladding. I laid the floor on a base of very effective floor insulation material. I have also made a work table and shelf unit, both of which are built largely from left-over construction timbers, with just a new sheet of MDF to provide the work surfaces.
We hope to be potting in the spring.
|Viewed from the greenhouse end, the kiln will go in the far left corner.|
|This view, through the front doors, showing my massively built work-table.|
There is room for a potter's wheel where the radiator is standing,
should I decide to invest in one at some time in the future.
|The kitchen units and worktop. |
The shelves are also made from a worktop, sawn down the middle.
The raw edges will be covered by an edging strip presently.
|Looking out through the greenhouse end|
It's that time of year again - deep, dark December. I don't dislike it. With the curtains closed and Cupar curled up in front of a glowing stove, it is cosy enough in here - and wonderfully quiet too!
Sue is away at the moment, making a pre-Christmas visit to her Mum and friends in Kent. Sue is working over Christmas this year. I am occupying much of my daylight time in fitting-out our new Potting Shed with cupboards, work-surfaces and shelving. I made a trip to Inverness the other week in a hired van, and returned with kitchen base units, work tops, paving slabs and assorted other stuff. I am enjoying honing my joinery skills as I assemble what I have bought and am also aiming to create some useful items utilising some of the off-cuts from the build of the PS itself.
I have had great news today - that the lean-to greenhouse that will become an integral part of our Potting Shed Project is at last scheduled for delivery in mid-January. I am still awaiting news of the delivery of my kiln though... But it will be so good to see our plans come together when all is in place, and then let the potting commence...!!
Meanwhile - on the allotment, we are still enjoying freshly picked kale and brussels sprouts, and when the weather is kind enough, I will be turning-over the soil in the beds to try to keep in place some kind of weed control.
Sue and I have now established a tradition to have a short-break holiday to mark our birthdays. Sue's birthday is in November, and mine in March, so it fits us well, with being 'out-of-season', meaning we have no clashes with cottage bookings, and we benefit from quieter places to visit. We take a chance with the weather of course - but one does that at any time of year if holidaying in Scotland.
We are just back from this November's trip. Ever since we have lived on Skye, we have promised ourselves that we will make a visit to the Outer Isles, and at last we have done it. After a bit of research, we chose to stay near Tarbert on Harris. The ferry from Uig on Skye sails to Tarbert, so we only had to drive about 35 miles in total from Roskhill to the cottage we rented, with the ferry taking us the 30 miles or so across the Minch.
The landscape that greeted us when we drove off the ferry was a complete surprise. I had really expected that Harris would be much the same as Skye, but in fact, it could barely be more different, with vast areas of the island being bare rock rather than the heather moorland of most of Skye.
As ever, we packed our days with exploring as much of the island as we could. We knew Cupar would love the sandy beaches, so visited a couple of them, but we also managed to make short climbs to the top of a hill or two, visited Scalpay and its lighthouse, drove the famed 'Golden Road' and explored a restored ancient church built by the MacLeods of Dunvegan. As it is fairly unlikely that we will return to Harris, we also made the 40-or-so mile drive north across Lewis to see the world-famous Callanish Stones. Here, I had another surprise, as I found the stones to be far more spiritual than I expected - a feeling enhanced by us being almost the only people at the site when we visited.
We haven't yet decided where we will go for my birthday jaunt in March, though it won't be back to the Outer Isles. However, I think there is a strong possibility that we will be making a further trip across the Minch - probably to the Uists next time - at some future date.
Sue is likely to get round to posting a picture-story of the holiday we have just had at some time in the not-too-distant future, and as she takes better photos than me, I'll just post a small sample of my pics below...
|Eilean Glas lighthouse, Scalpay|
|Birthday-girl (and me...)!|
|Clach Mich Leoid|
|Typical South Harris coastline|
Another holiday season is drawing to an end. The last few lingering camper vans are dawdling their way back over the Skye Bridge and heading home. Our cottage booking calendars are almost blank for the winter. The roads and villages are becoming quiet again.
It has been a different summer. Not just the weather - which seems to me to have been wetter than usual - but different visitors. Virus-related travel restrictions have meant we have hosted very few overseas guests, while many visitors from England and even from Scotland were exploring Skye for the first time. We have also seen a big increase in first-time self-caterers.
Such feedback as we receive suggests that our visitors have been happy enough with what they have experienced, with positive comments about our cottages, and about the island. I wonder how many people will choose to holiday again in the UK and discover other parts of our wonderful country before they fly off for yet another same-every-time sunbathing vacation in a crowded beach resort somewhere hot.
Tonight we put the clocks back an hour, so for those of us who live in this little piece of heaven-on-earth, the evenings will draw-in ever sooner, and we will start to look out the handicrafts, jigsaws, books and other entertainments that make light of the long dark winter nights.
I'll be stoking-up the stove again soon, too. We may bathe in centrally-heated luxury, but there is still nothing quite like the flicker of a real flame when the rain is beating against the windows, or the wind rushing round the chimney.
|The tourists make their way back home|
|An autumn sunset on Skye|
(Photo by Sue)
Having been born-and-bred in the softy south of England, I became very used to the year having four distinct seasons, each lasting around three months, with the summer being warm and dry, winter being colder and wetter, spring being bright and showery, and autumn being breezy and golden.
It's not like that here.
We pretty much only have one season on Skye, which is a continual confusion of all of the above. Winter starts around mid-August, and goes on for an awful long time. When my southern-trained body-clock is telling me that it should be spring, I find myself peering at tightly closed leaf buds on the trees and shrubs in the hope of spotting the first sign of a green shoot. When the calendar says it is July - true, the daylight hours are very long indeed, but the sun may still be a rare sight, and the wind can blast the drizzle into your face should you venture outside.
Somehow though, our flora and fauna seem to cope with the season-less year. My recent wild-flower photo-posts illustrate the ability of the plant-life here to flourish when and where it gets the chance. I manage to successfully nurture vegetables in the allotment. From April for a few months, there seem to be plenty of fledgling birds about the place, and we occasionally glimpse a mouse, vole, weasel or stoat, so they survive here, too. But sadly - never a hedgehog.
And.... the sky can be blue sometimes..!! At any time of year, too. In can happen suddenly. The wind drops, the rain stops, and the steel-grey clouds magically vanish to reveal the freshly-washed glistening blue heavens, which instantly paint the sea an even more unlikely blue. At these times, we cherish every moment and sigh at the beauty of the vista before us.
I can live without seasons.
Progress on the new shed/greenhouse/studio has been brisk. The guys doing the build have now done as much as they can before the French windows arrive. The windows should be here quite soon, and once installed, the electrician can do his bit, and the inside can then be insulated and lined. The unfinished wall is where the lean-to greenhouse will be going. The plan is to leave the cladding until after the greenhouse has been fitted, to get a nice neat end result. Unfortunately, the greenhouse is not likely to be here before mid-November.
As for the allotment - the veg that I have harvested so far have been absolutely first class, but there are so many carrots we will be going orange and growing frizzy green hair if we eat them all...
|Cupar thinks it is his new kennel...|
I tidied-away all the off-cuts just after taking the photos
|A wider view. |
We will have to make a path across the lawn,
and possibly edge the path with bedding plants in summer
(which we will grow ourselves in the greenhouse..)!
|...and half an hour later...|
|The concrete base had been laid a few weeks ago.|
By mid-morning of day one of the build, the first wall was in place.
|By the end of day one, we had four walls|
|It's a very substantial building!|
|At the end of day 2.|
I am standing in what will be the lean-to greenhouse.
Unfortunately, it will be a few more weeks before that gets delivered.
|On the allotment - I have harvested one of four rows of potatoes |
- I grew three different varieties this year.
Beyond - the cleared bed is where the onions grew, with bushy carrots at the end.
Runner beans and broad beans to the right,
kale and brussels sprouts almost out of sight below the fuchsia windbreak hedge.
|The harvested onions dry in the sun on a step ladder!|
|No caption needed!|
Now, a few weeks on from my last post, most of the smaller flowers are gone, to be replaced by taller and larger plants, some of them so vigorous that they form drifts of colour on the roadsides and meadows. Most have grown over a metre in height in the last couple of months.
Very common locally is the rich creamy Meadowsweet, which on a calm day fills the air with its heady scent. White umbrellas of tall Hogweed are also everywhere, as are the stunningly beautiful thistle-like Knapweed, while bright yellow Ragwort is all about too. Not so common just at Roskhill, but flowering in profusion outside Loch View Cottage, and indeed, all over the Highlands, is the brilliant pinky-purple Rosebay willowherb.
There's also a couple of other plants in flower now that I don't know the names of - so help needed again, please!
|The wild floral display at our Lochview Cottage|
|Knapweed, Hogweed, Ragwort and ferns|
|The lovely Knapweed flower|
|Help needed to name this one please...|
|... and help to name this lovely little chap, too.|